Internet freedom activists rallied outside the Third Avenue offices of Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, calling on them to drop their support for controversial legislation aimed at curtailing online piracy.
The bills that have drawn their ire are known as PIPA (Protect IP Act) introduced in the Senate and SOPA (the Stop Internet Piracy Act) introduced in the House. The aim of the legislation is to squeeze websites, mostly based outside of the United States, which sell or share pirated content (whether movies, music, or fake prescription drugs).
But protesters argue PIPA and SOPA could hobble legal U.S.-based internet businesses and curtail the freedom of ordinary web users. That's because the bills include language that would make it easier for authorities to take action against websites or internet service providers who provide access to sites that violate intellectual property laws.
"Where my software developers at?" shouted one speaker to a crowd of well over 1,000 people that included programmers, internet entrepreneurs, people who work in the arts and others. Several large internet players, including Google and Wikipedia, have loudly proclaimed their opposition. But even smaller players say they would be affected.
"If it hurts a Google or it hurts a Facebook or it hurts a Reddit, that trickles down and it affects smaller startups like mine that are just trying to get going," said Seth Bannon, a co-founder of Amicus, a company that helps political organizations raise money and attract new members using social media.
Bannon said the laws could threaten his ability to attract financing or make new hires.
Senators Schumer and Gillibrand released a joint statement defending their support for PIPA, while emphasizing cooperation with internet companies.
"We will continue to work with our colleagues to ensure a proper balance between stopping the theft of intellectual property and copyright infringement, and doing so without the unintended consequence of stifling or censoring the internet, which we strongly oppose," the statement said.
The statement also noted that online piracy threatens "tens of thousands" of New York jobs by depriving filmmakers, artists and others of payment they should receive for their work.